The Center of Excellence ”The Future of Democracy” (FutuDem) sets out to study democracy with a comparative and multi-methodological approach. We decipher the current condition of democracy and test new deliberative and participatory models of democracy in order to make claims and suggestions regarding the future of democracy. This funding boosts Åbo Akademi’s position as the leading university in research on public opinion in Finland. The Social Science Research Institute (Samforsk) coordinates the Centre and brings together political scientists from Åbo and Vasa. FutuDem collaborates with leading democracy scholars in the world. It also tries to give policy-makers advise as how to involve citizens in democratic decision-making. This is done in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, the City of Turku, and the Finnish and Swedish associations of local and regional authorities. The project is set to last until 2023.
The institute is in a leading position concerning research on Finland Swedish opinion. The most important study, Barometern, was conducted annually between 2002 and 2014 among the Swedish speaking population in Finland. Researcher Kjell Herberts initiated the study. In the report “Opinioner och trender i svenskfinland”, edited by Herberts and published in 2008 by the Social Science research institute, several social scientists analyze the results of the survey between 2001 and 2007. The survey will be conducted again in 2019 under the leadership of researcher Marina Lindell. The aim of the survey is to analyze changes in Finland Swedish opinion, language choices, the quality of services in Swedish, consumption patterns, and other prevailing issues.
Since 2004, Språkbarometern has been used to study how linguistic services have been implemented in bilingual municipalities. Språkbarometern measures how members of the linguistic minority in different municipalities perceive linguistic services. Språkbarometern is conducted every four years and was last conducted in 2016, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, and the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland. Språkbarometern is also used as a foundation for the “Report of the Government on the application of language legislation”. The most recent research report “Språkbarometern 2004-2016” is available on the website of the Ministry of Justice. Samforsk has also published two prior reports – ”Service på svenska och finska – ett medborgarperspektiv” (2008) and ”Service på svenska och finska – i minoritetsperspektiv” (2012).
Consortium of Trust Research – Pathways to Political trust (CONTRE), 2015–2019
The project seeks to enhance the understanding of long- and short-term variations in political trust in contemporary established democracies. It adopts a multilevel approach which involves political demand (individual citizens), political supply (political actors and political performance) and the societal and political context in which demand and supply interact. The project is based on a broad comparative perspective, and produces novel information by combining results from large-scale surveys with experimental set-ups. The study expands the understanding of political decision-makers and general public on the determinants of political trust, and how it is maintained in societies. The research is conducted in two interlinked sub-projects “Process” University of Tampere and “Structure” Åbo Akademi University, led by Adjuct Professor Elina Kestilä-Kekkonen and Professor Kimmo Grönlund.
Participation in Long-Term Decision-Making (PALO), 2017–2021
Participation in Long-Term Decision-Making (PALO) is a multidisciplinary research project that focuses on the problems related to long-term decision-making practices. The PALO project aims to strengthen democracy by developing better practices for deliberative citizen participation and public decision-making. By reforming policy-making processes, we can place more emphasis on long-term consequences and the needs of future generations. The PALO consortium consists of four organisations: the University of Turku, the Natural Resource Institute Finland, Åbo Akademi University and the University of Tampere. The multidisciplinary research group consists of political scientists, environmental researchers, psychologists, behavioural economists and philosophers. The Strategic Research Council (SRC) at the Academy of Finland funds the four-year (2017-2021) project. The SRC funds programme-based research aimed at finding concrete solutions to the major challenges Finnish society faces today.
Personalization of electoral competition: long-term institutional effects on party-voter linkages and party systems (2014–2019), Academy Research Fellow Peter Söderlund
The research project explores the impact of candidate-centred electoral institutions on party-voter linkages and party system development across Europe since the 1960s. The developments can be understood through the personalization of politics, which entails candidates increasingly running individual campaigns to attract personal votes and citizens increasingly voting for candidates based on their personal qualities instead of their party’s platform. Individual-level voting behavior as well as electoral participation, party choice, and electoral volatility at an aggregated level is analyzed.
Democratic Innovations in Finland and Political Legitimacy (2015–2020), Academy Research Fellow Henrik Serup Christensen
The aim of the project is to examine whether democratic innovations have helped improve the democratic legitimacy in Finland. Democratic innovations are various instruments that aim to increase popular involvement in political decision making. Several countries, including Finland, have introduced such measures with the ambition to increase political legitimacy. However, the effect is still unclear as systematic research is lacking. The research questions in the project are examined with different data and methods to increase validity.
Involving citizens through deliberative processes? -Experimental evidence on central causal mechanisms, and their applicability to real-life policy-making, of deliberative mini-publics. (2016–2021), Academy Research Fellow Kim Strandberg
The project studies central causal mechanisms in discourse quality and the democratic effects of deliberative mini-publics. In addition, the project also examines their applicability to real-life policy-making. The project consists of two components. Component A studies central causal mechanism in mini-publics. Here, the impact of three groups of independent variables – recruitment methods, group composition, and discussion types – on discourse quality and democratic effects are tested. Component B focuses on the effects of deliberative mini-publics and associating these with real-life policy-making.
Coordinating Machine Politics and Clientelism: Variation in Non-Programmatic Electoral Strategies” (2018-2023), Academy Research Fellow Inga Saikkonen
Incumbents in authoritarian regimes and new democracies can use a variety of non-programmatic electoral strategies, such as electoral fraud and electoral clientelism, to skew the ‘electoral playing field’ in their favour. However, these electoral strategies are by no means cost-free or necessarily that efficient, and require complex delegation and coordination at several levels of the electoral ‘machine’. This project is part of emerging comparative literature that investigates how various contextual conditions within countries mitigate the delegation problems associated with the coordination of electoral malfeasance and electoral clientelism. These substantively and normatively important questions are investigated with original qualitative and quantitative data, as well as experimental methods.
OstroInvolve 2.0 (2016–2019), Project Leader: Kim Strandberg
OstroInvolve 2.0 is a 4-year project funded by Högskolestiftelsen i Österbotten, the aim of which is to strengthen the local democracy by arranging deliberative citizen forums as field experiments. In collaboration with a municipal partner, the project has organized nine citizen forums concerning political questions of varying significance. The scientific aim of the project is mainly to study how these discussions complement representative democracy on a local level, and how participants perceive and are affected by them.